Ten years ago exactly we celebrated our 10 year high school reunion in Taormina, Sicily. I fell so in love with the island; the smells of flowers and ocean air. Its rocky cliffs dipping vertically into the clear, azure Ionic Sea. The cobblestone streets with the outdoor cafes, bustling with ultra-cool Sicilians having Gelato con la Brioche, (incredible ice cream sandwiches) and Granita con la Panna, (italian ice with whipped cream). The weather was perfect, mildly warm during the day, and cool and breezy at night. I didn’t want to leave.
After this vacation, I moved to Barcelona. And I decided that I wanted to bring back all of those glorious things I tasted on my trip. So, I started traveling extensively throughout Sicily, took many cooking lessons, visited wineries, cheese producers, cured meat purveyors, all in hopes of soaking up what they do best in Sicily, cook and eat.
One of my favorite things I discovered, besides the gelato con la brioche, was Arancini. The name means “small oranges”, obviously because of their color and shape. But inside….it was a surprise that I was quite happy to discover. Arancini are stuffed rice croquettes. The ones that I like the best contain a ragu, or meat sauce, in the center. But they can be as simple as plain mozzarella, or with spinach and cheese, or just vegetables. The time I spent there, I met many Mamma’s, Nonna’s and chefs. And each one of them imparted their unique technique’s from all over the island. Here is my recipe for Arancini, mind you, it takes a bit of practice, and it definitely requires some patience since the process has quite a few steps. But I wouldn’t hesitate to make them. They are beyond delicious, and you will be very happy when your guests or family gobbles them up with huge smiles.
So here’s what you’re going to need:
Makes about 8 arancini
For the rice:
3 cups water
1.5 cups arborio rice
2 tsp of salt
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
For the ragu:
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large onion, finely minced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
125g ground beef and pork
1/2 cup white wine
1 can of pureed tomatoes, 400g
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup peas
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 cup mozzarella, diced
2 eggs, beaten
Lots of bread crumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying
In a saucepan, add the water, salt and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, add the rice and turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes until it evaporates.
Let it cool a bit, and add your egg and parmesan cheese and mix well. Spread out on a baking sheet and let cool in the fridge.
In the meantime, make the sauce. In a large sauté pan over low heat, add the onion and garlic,cook for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, and raise the heat to high, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously so your onions and garlic won’t burn. Add the beef/pork mixture, and sauté until cooked through, stirring the whole time. When it is completely cooked, add the white wine and let it evaporate completely.
Add the tomato purée, and the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low. Add the peas and let simmer for about 20 minutes, just enough so that you have more meat to sauce, but it is still quite moist.
When done, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and mozzarella. Mix well. Let cool.
Now here comes the tricky part. It is useful to have everything ready on your countertop before you begin to make the arancini. In a deep, non stick frying pan, fill half full with the vegetable oil. Place it over high heat.
Crack your eggs into a shallow bowl, and put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Place them side by side, and have your rice and ragu in a row so you can work easily. It also helps to have a large bowl of water to rinse your hands with in between making the arancini, because it becomes a sticky mess, and of course, a kitchen towel over your shoulder to dry your hands with!
Now, start closing your hand around the sauce, using your free hand to help you close up the hole. Grab a little bit more rice and place it on top, pressing the rice to create a nice tight seam. It takes a bit of artistry, but by the second or third one, you will get the hang of it. Once the sauce is completely covered with the rice, mold into a ball shape.
Now roll in the beaten eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs, making sure that it is completely covered. Then with a slotted spoon, place in the hot oil, and fry until the bottom half is golden brown, then flip it over and fry on the other side. You can do a few at a time, just remember the order you put them in.
Strain on paper towels to take off the excess oil, and serve immediately. You can also make them ahead, and before frying refrigerate for a few days. Just bring them to room temperature before frying.
From my kitchen to yours,